Alain Vigneault has stated on many occasions that it is vital for the success of the Rangers moving forward that every year there is at least one or two young players that move up through the organization and earn a spot on the varsity at the NHL level. And with the departures this summer of several veteran forwards off of last season's Eastern Conference championship-winning roster, the Rangers head into September's training camp with vacancies on their roster.
Consider this to be a major opportunity for a slew of up and comers within the Rangers organization, including 23 year-old forward Ryan Bourque who agreed to terms on a new contract with the Blueshirts last week.
"Every camp provides an opportunity, but this is really a big year for me," Bourque told BlueshirtsUnited.com in an exclusive interview earlier this week. "This is an opportunity for me to get serious looks to see if I can make a difference. I am going to try and make the most of the opportunity because there are spots to be won (on the roster)."
A third-round selection by the Rangers in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Bourque has already played nearly 200 games over the past three years with the team's American Hockey League affiliate in Hartford--196 to be exact--and has yet to play a single contest at the NHL level. However coming off a breakout 21-goal season a year ago, the time maybe now for Bourque.
"People underestimate the jump from Junior hockey to the pros, and what a really good league the American League is," explained Bourque, who scored 14 goals combined in his first two professional seasons. "I think the biggest difference (last season) was just the players around me--the way we connected in the second half--I definitely had a lot of help. And for me personally, I just got comfortable and had confidence in myself and was able to let my true game come out. My play came out naturally, and that was a really big step for me."
Bourque--son of Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bourque--played primarily a checking, energy role his first two seasons with Hartford, excelling as a penalty killer while also seeing some time on the power play. Very responsible defensively, Bourque was trusted at both ends of the ice by head coach Ken Gernander; but in 2013-14 Bourque also was put in a more offensive role and thrived, more resembling the player the Rangers drafted out of Quebec, where he tallied 26 goals in 49 games his final season of Junior.
Now he will present himself at training camp as a two-way player, one with three years of pro experience, and one who comes with a host of positive intangibles including leadership skills, a great hockey pedigree, and the reputation as a hard-working very coachable player.
"I think if there's a style of play that I like to play and thrive under it would definitely be (Vigneault's fast-skating style)," shared Bourque. "I like to play with a lot of speed, and I like to come up the ice and get back the other way with speed. I take pride in my defensive play, but I like to get after it, too. So it's very exciting to see that is his (Vigneault's) style. But in the end I have to work hard out on the ice to earn that opportunity."
The competition for spots on the Rangers opening night roster will be stiff to say the least, with former first-rounder J.T. Miller heading a list of younger forwards in the battle. That list also includes the likes of Danny Kristo, Oscar Lindberg, Jesper Fast, and Ryan Haggerty among others, not to mention veteran newcomers Lee Stempniak and Matthew Lombardi.
"It's like any business out there, there will be a really great competition," explained Bourque. "In the end it's going to be the players who play at the highest level who earn the opportunity. There's a great group of young guys down there (in Hartford) and I think it says a lot about the organization depth-wise. There's a ton of depth there, and it's fun for us because we are getting better together and hopefully that cameraderie builds to where we want to play for one another one day in New York."
One of the players who Bourque could be competing against for a roster spot, and quite possibly could be playing alongside this season, too, is his older brother Chris, who signed with the Rangers as a free agent earlier this summer. Chris is five years older than Ryan and has 51 games of NHL experience and five 20+-goal seasons in the AHL under his belt.
"It's going to be an awesome experience," offered the younger Bourque brother. "There's not many fields out there, or even in sports, where someone can experience something like this. We always said growing up that we would want to do this if we could. The fact that it all fit in and worked out this year is incredible. It's definitely going to be an unbelievable experience and we are definitely excited about it."
Business being business, though, Ryan Bourque is more focused on trying to secure a spot with the Rangers this fall; and until training camp starts in mid September he will continue to work out and prepare himself--for now in the Boston area, closer to camp he will skate with other Blueshirts at the MSG Training Center--the best he can.
There are jobs to be won and Ryan Bourque plans to be right in the middle of that mix.